Blog by Aaron Henson
Still being relatively new to the pipe collecting/restoration hobby I have been a bit selective when it comes to the pipe I purchase. I typically look for shapes that have visual or tactile appeal and pay little attention to the name on the stem. And in that line of thought, ever since seeing the GBD 4292 for the first time I have wanted a pipe of this shape. So when I came across this no-name bent Rhodesian on eBay, I quickly placed a bid. It’s not that there were no markings on this pipe. The left side was stamped with STANDARD on the shank and a white 5-point star on the stem. The right side of the shank was stamped with Bruyère in script over Garantie.
The grain was very nice with some birds eye on the right side and a kind of flame grain on the left. There was some minor denting on the heel but the only real wood flaw was a large fill on the left side The color of the fill did not blend well with the grain and it detracted from look of the pipe. Around the rim there was some chipping and charring; damage not uncommon in a used pipe. The only other major issue that I found was the that the twin groves around the bowl were not very deep and had been worn completely away on the right side.
The stem was in very good shape. There were some tooth marks on the bottom side of the stem with moderate oxidation overall. The singer was removable and had a modest build up of tar. The biggest issue with the stem was the loose fit to the stummel – which didn’t become apparent until after the shank was cleaned.
During the inspection I decided to change the stain and finish of the pipe in order to highlight the grain and camouflage the large patch. So I began by setting the stummel to soak in 95% isopropyl alcohol to remove finish and loosen the tars and cake. I set the stem to soak in the same solution in a different container for the same reasons. After an overnight soak, I began cleaning the stem with pipe cleaners, running them through until they came out clean. To address the oxidation, I placed a small dab of petroleum jelly over the star and set the stem to soak in a solution of 50/50 chlorine bleach and water. After 20 minutes – when the bubbles had subsided – I rolled the stem over in the solution and let it go another 20 minutes. Then I removed from the bath, rinsed with fresh water and set the stem aside to dry. I didn’t get back to the work bench right away, so after a 36 hour soak, I removed the stummel from its alcohol bath and wiped it dry. I then reamed the bowl with 40 grit sand paper wrapped around a ½” diameter dowel (although this method works well, I did finally order a Castelford pipe reamer from Amazon). Once the cake was removed and the chamber cleaned, I went to work on the shank. Pipe cleaners and cotton swabs removed the remaining gunk inside the shank.
The chips and charring around the rim could only be cleaned up by topping the bowl. I use a sheet of 220 grit sandpaper laid on a flat surface and worked the stummel around in the circular motion. Even pressure and constant checking ensured that the rim was flat and level. I didn’t get the deepest chips because I was concerned that anymore material off the top would change the look of the pipe. Looking back now, I could have filled these chips with a briar dust patch. Maybe I will go back and do that this fall.
I sanded the remainder of the bowl with 320 – particularly around the large filled area and decided that the fill was in good shape and not worth removing. The fill proved to be of a darker color and that went along with my finishing plans.
The parallel grooves around the bowl were next on the list. On the right side they had worn away until they were barely visible. I went to my local hardware store and searched through the saw blades until I found what I was after: a thin fine toothed mini-hacksaw blade that just fit the width of the existing grooves. I trimmed the end of the blade with shears so I would have more clearance around the shank. Using the existing groves as a guide, I carefully worked my way around the bowl deepening and redefining the grooves. As usual, I found that not rushing yielded the bet results.
Returning to the stem, I tried applying heat to raise the tooth mark but that did not answer. So I roughened the tooth marks with 320 grit paper and fill of the divot with black superglue in multiple thin layers, letting the glue dry completely (12 hours) between layers. Once the final layer of superglue was dry, I feathered out the patch with 320 grit paper. Then I began the sanding/polishing process by wet sanding with 400 – 4000 grit paper stopping every few grits to dry the stem and apply a light coat of mineral oil. I didn’t touch the star on the stem until I got to the 2000 grit paper not wanting to damage the logo. Once I finished polishing the stem with 6000 – 12000 grit paper I oiled the stem and set it aside.
I wanted to provide some contract to the grain of the pipe and to make the grooves really stand out. The original grooves did not have a contrasting color. I began with a coat of Black Fiebing’s leather dye. In retrospect, I should have thinned it down some. After the stain dried, I had a difficult time removing it. Acetone wipes and eventually light sanding removed most of the dye but left enough to highlighting the grain. I wanted a little more color so I applied a 3:1 diluted coat of Fiebing’s Ox Blood dye. This had the result of giving the pipe a pink hue that had me more than a little concerned. Happily, it all came together with multiple thin coats of olive oil. I left the oil on the stummel until it soaked in and then applied the second and third coats. The third coat did not soak in, so I wiped in clean and set it aside to rest for a couple of days. Before taking the pipe to the buffing wheel and thought I would address the loose stem. I tried bee’s wax, which has worked in the past, but the stem remained too loose. After a little research I heated the tenon over the heat gun and then inserted a nail set into the air hole and let the tenon cool. This technique only enlarges the end of the tenon rather than the full length of the tenon, which is a better repair. I went through the heating/cooling process several times until I got a snug but not tight fit. Another thing to be aware of when heating the tenon is that the softened tenon may ‘sag’ a little. If this happens, then you may be left with a little gap between the stem and shank.
From here, I assembled the pipe and took it to the buffing wheel. I use an inexpensive Sears buffing system that fits into the chuck of my drill press. I found on previous projects that gearing down the drill speed to 1200 rpms was important to maintain control and not overheat the pipe. I finished with three coats of carnauba wax and buffed to a shine.